Halloween is still two weeks away, but you've been living a nightmare for nearly a month. Your neighbor began building his homage to Freddy Krueger in September, creating a tableau equally terrifying and unintentionally hilarious. • You, on other hand, have done nothing. No fake tombstones, no cobwebs, not even one strand of sickly orange lights. • While Mr. Krueger is ready for a prime party night — for the first time since 1998, Halloween falls on a Saturday— you have some catching up to do. • Meet Amy Boyd of St. Petersburg. Boyd, husband Ryan, and daughters Sarah, 11, and Alli, 9, are preparing for their ninth annual Halloween bash. "I just kind of made it up the first year," she says. "Now I have kids who ask about it months ahead of time." • You can take advantage of her experience: Boyd shares some of the tricks she's learned, here and on Page 8H.
Decorate in stages
Buy one major decoration each year that makes a big impression. In just a few years, you'll have quite the collection, like the Boyds' seven life-size mannequins: two maids, two vampires, a zombie, a witch and a butler affectionately known as Scary Larry. "He's part of the family," Boyd says. "We have a hard time putting Scary Larry away."
Idle hands are the devil's tools
The Boyds began their Halloween tradition when her youngest daughter was born. The invitation list now includes 100-plus people, more than 60 of whom are children. If you're going to have young guests, make sure to offer age-appropriate activities. The Boyds began with simple crafts and coloring pages; now they transform their garage into a haunted house and the back yard into a dance floor with DJ.
Guests bring along a pumpkin, and Amy Boyd sets aside a table or two for decorating. These aren't your typical jack-o'-lanterns. Each year she puts out different craft supplies, such as paint pens (they dry more quickly and are more contained than paint), permanent markers, decoupage (better for longer parties because the glue needs time to dry), card stock cut into shapes and googly eyes (use nails to create a 3-D effect), brightly colored push pins and straight pins with colored heads, buttons, ribbons and beads.
Now that her children and their guests are older, Boyd will have a table for carving with saws and tools found in carving kits.
The Boyd bash is always the weekend before Halloween, so they bring the trick-or-treating inside. While the dads round up the kids and costumes, the moms take up posts at every door in the house. Kids receive a treat at each doorway, but it's the first stop that Amy Boyd likes best. There she snaps a photo of each child in costume. She has done this every year and plans to show all the photos as a slide show this year.
Halloween is the perfect holiday for keeping guests in check: Seal off private areas with crime scene tape or "Keep Out!" signs.
Dyeing to impress
Don't overlook your pool when it comes to adding gruesome touches. Boyd dyes hers red and tosses in plastic bloody body parts. (Not all pool stores carry the dye, so call ahead. We found it for $6.99 at Pinch A Penny on 62nd Avenue N in St. Petersburg; (727) 521-1179.)
Decorating the scene
Make, rather than buy, decorations. "When I'm craving something new, I go to Google Images and type 'Halloween.' If I see something I like, we just make it. With wood and paint, you can do anything." PVC pipe is another cheap option that can be cut and painted.
• "Scene setters are a good way to start," Boyd says. Thin plastic sheets cover all or part of a wall and are a quick, inexpensive way to decorate a room.
, Use what you have — clothes stuffed with towels and topped with a mask make great bodies, Boyd says. And shop discount or thrift stores. The Goodwill store on Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg is a favorite ("their home section is huge"). "You can spray-paint anything black" and make it a Halloween decoration, Boyd says. She turned a cheap pair of tarnished candlesticks (left) into a centerpiece with white tapers and artfully dripped red wax to resemble blood.
• Use lots and lots of cobwebs. The ubiquitous bags of stretchable polyester strings usually sell for about $1. "It's a pain to clean up, but it really makes an impression," Boyd says.